Ethan Frome HTML version

Chapter VII
Ethan went out into the passage to hang up his wet garments. He listened for
Zeena's step and, not hearing it, called her name up the stairs. She did not
answer, and after a moment's hesitation he went up and opened her door. The
room was almost dark, but in the obscurity he saw her sitting by the window, bolt
upright, and knew by the rigidity of the outline projected against the pane that she
had not taken off her travelling dress.
"Well, Zeena," he ventured from the threshold.
She did not move, and he continued: "Supper's about ready. Ain't you coming?"
She replied: "I don't feel as if I could touch a morsel."
It was the consecrated formula, and he expected it to be followed, as usual, by
her rising and going down to supper. But she remained seated, and he could
think of nothing more felicitous than: "I presume you're tired after the long ride."
Turning her head at this, she answered solemnly: "I'm a great deal sicker than
you think."
Her words fell on his ear with a strange shock of wonder. He had often heard her
pronounce them before-what if at last they were true?
He advanced a step or two into the dim room. "I hope that's not so, Zeena," he
She continued to gaze at him through the twilight with a mien of wan authority, as
of one consciously singled out for a great fate. "I've got complications," she said.
Ethan knew the word for one of exceptional import. Almost everybody in the
neighbourhood had "troubles," frankly localized and specified; but only the
chosen had "complications." To have them was in itself a distinction, though it
was also, in most cases, a death-warrant. People struggled on for years with
"troubles," but they almost always succumbed to "complications."
Ethan's heart was jerking to and fro between two extremities of feeling, but for
the moment compassion prevailed. His wife looked so hard and lonely, sitting
there in the darkness with such thoughts.
"Is that what the new doctor told you?" he asked, instinctively lowering his voice.
"Yes. He says any regular doctor would want me to have an operation."
Ethan was aware that, in regard to the important question of surgical intervention,
the female opinion of the neighbourhood was divided, some glorying in the
prestige conferred by operations while others shunned them as indelicate. Ethan,
from motives of economy, had always been glad that Zeena was of the latter
In the agitation caused by the gravity of her announcement he sought a
consolatory short cut. "What do you know about this doctor anyway? Nobody
ever told you that before."
He saw his blunder before she could take it up: she wanted sympathy, not
"I didn't need to have anybody tell me I was losing ground every day. Everybody
but you could see it. And everybody in Bettsbridge knows about Dr. Buck. He has
his office in Worcester, and comes over once a fortnight to Shadd's Falls and